Thurrock chose to leave the EU. Are voters there still happy?
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, greets British Prime Minister Theresa May at the EU headquarters in Brussels [File: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/The Associated Press]
Essex, United Kingdom – Few places in Britain were as certain as the borough of Thurrock when asked to weigh up the UK’s membership of the European Union in a June 2016 referendum.
More than 72 percent of voters in the area, which forms part of the southeastern county of Essex, opted to quit the bloc. Only three other areas registered a higher leave vote.
Since the ballot, in which 52 percent of people nationwide voted to leave, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s efforts to manage the departure have been met with intense scrutiny.
On Tuesday, parliament is expected to reject the withdrawal agreement she drew up alongside European leaders following months of negotiations.
Criticism of the deal across the political spectrum has been sharp.
Some argue it would see the UK too tied in with Europe and at the mercy of Brussels’ decision making.
Others say it would mean the UK renounces benefits it currently enjoys as a member of the political and economic bloc, leaving the country isolated and weaker.
Ahead of the parliamentary vote, Al Jazeera asked voters in Thurrock for their views on Brexit, and to see if the area’s apparent certainty on quitting the EU had been muddied by more than two years of political chaos.
Paul Outram, 43, communications technician
|‘Another referendum would be a kick in the teeth for the people who voted to leave’ [David Child/Al Jazeera]|
I voted to leave because I’m fed up with being dictated to by Europe on our laws and them telling us what we can do in our own parliament. I want to take back the power.
I don’t think we have had the right people leading the discussions and negotiations over Brexit, though. Theresa May should have gone for a harder Brexit, because where we are heading for at the moment is basically a no-man’s land, where we wouldn’t actually be out-out and still too much controlled by Europe.
I don’t think we should go with her deal, it’s too soft and not what we wanted.
She’s not going to get the support of parliament for it but I just hope it doesn’t end up in another referendum. That would be a kick in the teeth for the people who voted to leave.
We still need a relationship with Europe, yes, but it’s a two-way thing. People think that we need Europe more than they need us but I think it’s 50-50, especially with security. For national security and world security we still need to work with each other.
We have always been a great nation and have always survived over hundreds of years, we only joined the EU about 40 years ago so I don’t see why our history should be dictated by the last four decades alone when before that we always did alright.
Naomi Campbell, 34, social worker
I voted to stay in the EU because we know what it is about and what we have already got. For me, there wasn’t enough certainty around leaving and what that would mean. There were a lot of questions about leaving that weren’t answered.
From what I understand, this Brexit deal means we aren’t really coming out of the EU, but I try not to listen to the arguments and after a while when you hear Brexit you just switch off.
A Brexit deal with the EU is never going to be perfect, if they let us go with a perfect deal then others will want to leave too, but if the withdrawal agreement is going to benefit us in some way then it’s fair enough to come out.
If it’s going to leave us in a worse position, though, we might as well stay in. Better the devil you know, right?
It would be beneficial to have a second referendum though, because when it comes to the government they like to argue amongst themselves and it’s about their personal agenda and gains sometimes.
Besides, now people do actually know what Brexit is about a bit more, we can actually decide whether to go ahead with it or not. I think it would be a slightly different result if it happened.
Pritish Patel, 40, newsagent
|‘We have problems and issues with immigrants from the EU, that’s why I voted to leave’ [David Child/Al Jazeera]|
I voted leave to try and get something better for the UK, but now everything has changed.
The government hasn’t done a bad job, but the problem is they haven’t thought enough about how Brexit can fix our immigration problems.
We have problems and issues with immigrants from the EU, that’s why I voted to leave. The government is focusing on everything [in the withdrawal plan], but I want them to focus on immigration laws and crime laws.
Parliament has a totally different view of the points to me, though.
Moni Sola, 40, healthcare assistant
I don’t really understand Brexit, I don’t see any way it’s going to favour me, but I do feel that European people are coming into the UK and costing the country lots of money.
I feel the politicians deciding on this issue have seen more than we have seen, but they can’t really explain it properly because they are worried about being accused of racism.
They have their heads on though, they know what they’re doing and should go on with this deal.
Jolene Cander, 40, charity shop volunteer
|‘If we did have a second referendum a lot more people would vote to remain’ [David Child/Al Jazeera]|
I voted to stay in the EU, I thought it would be better than leaving because of all the trade deals we share.
I think things will increase in price if we leave and I’m concerned about whether we will be able to travel freely throughout Europe still.
A lot of the people that voted to leave thought that it would get rid of immigrants and a lot more racism has come out since the referendum because of certain politicians warning that X will happen or Y will happen.
But it can’t just happen like that, to say ‘right we are leaving, out you go’, they have come here for a reason and that’s because they can’t live in their own country for the most part.
The majority will take jobs that English people don’t want to do, because they are lower-wage jobs, and if they all got thrown out of the country there would be a lot of English people asking why nobody is doing those jobs anymore.
This hasn’t been fair on Theresa May, it wasn’t her that brought this in but she’s been left to deal with it and is now getting all the flak for it.
It’s unlikely that there will be a second vote because once the decision is made, it’s made, but I think if we did a lot more people would vote to remain.
Having a deal signed off on will at least mean this is decided, I don’t think it will be better [than remaining] and it will affect a lot of people poorly but I guess we just have to wait and see.
Rafael Akinde, 63, security guard
I voted out in the referendum.
The law of this country is being overridden by EU law and I also don’t like the dilution of our identity. I don’t want our British nationality to be diluted.
I have not been able to go through the deal yet, I will, but I know we can do without Europe.
We don’t need a second referendum, that would be an insult to our democracy. We should stick by the first result.
Without Europe we will survive, Canada survives, New Zealand survives, America survives. These are very strong countries.
People who say leaving Europe will be bad for us are telling lies. Even if businesses vacate temporarily, they will come back again.
Linda Hort, 32, artist
I was not registered to vote in the referendum as I am not a British citizen, despite living here. But in my opinion people who were voting were not necessarily aware of the weight of it and I don’t think it was a good idea to ask the public this question, in this way.
It was a misleading conversation at various points and the vote was used as a political tool without a full explanation of the economic and other influences it might have on people’s lives.
I am understanding of both sides [leave and remain], it did bring up frustrations that are very important for the UK. There are things that people aren’t happy with and I am completely accepting of that, I feel compassion for everyone, but as a non-UK citizen I am just living on hold now.